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December 5th, 2008 at 1:50 pm

I Know What Christmas Is, But What is Advent?

The countdown to Christmas Day continues, with all the hustle and bustle and pressure that goes with that. It’s hard with all the stuff to do to keep “Christ in Christmas.” As I have written, sometimes I’d just prefer to take Christ out of Christmas, celebrate Christmas by some other name as a secular holiday (and thus keep our economy humming), and do Advent, or real Christmas, some other time. 

But then, as I think about it, the approach of the winter’s solstice is such a perfect time for the Advent season for us in the northern hemisphere anyway. And (sigh) since I know that we likely won’t move the celebration of Advent to June or July, until then I guess I’ll keep trying (amidst the manic orgy of shopping and other Christmas preparations), to keep Christ in my Christmas and help others do the same. 

Just as I took time to lay out the meaning of “incarnation” so also I will now lay out the meaning of “advent” over several posts. 

The English word “advent” means “coming” or “arrival.” We speak for example of the “advent of Spring,” or we might talk about what life was like before the “advent of the computer.” Our English word “advent” derives via Old French from the Latin “adventus,” which means “arrival” or “coming.” You might recognize the “ven” part of this Latin word. it comes from the Latin verb “to come,” which we find in the first part of the famous expression, “Veni Vidi Vici,” “I came, I saw, I conquered.” 

I do not know exactly when the Latin word from which we have derived our word “advent” first came to be used in reference to the celebration of the first coming of Jesus Christ and those events surrounding his conception and birth. But by the 5th or 6th centuries the use of this word in reference to the birth of Jesus was common. As the concept of the liturgical calendar developed early in the church’s history, the season of Advent was established as a kind of forerunner to the more festive season of  Christmas itself (or Christmastide), which in the liturgical calendar begins on Christmas day and lasts for 12 days to January 6. Whereas Christmas tide was more celebrative, Advent proper was more reflective – a season of fasting and reflection and preparation and repentance (much like Lent).

 For those Catholic and Protestant churches whose worship still has roots in the liturgical calendar, Advent as a season represents the beginning of the liturgical year. Technically speaking, Advent season begins with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (November 30) and extends through on Christmas Eve, December 24. Thus Advent includes the four consecutive Sundays before Christmas.

 The first of these four Sundays may fall as early as November 27, in which case Advent lasts twenty-eight days, or as late as December 3, giving the season only twenty-one days. This year (2008), Advent officially started on Sunday November 30th, will last through until Wednesday December 24th, for a total of 25 days.

 The liturgical season of Advent reminds us of how we are to prepare our hearts for the coming of the king! We are to reconsider the Old Covenant promises which looked to their fulfillment in the messianic king to come. We are to empathize with the longing of the saints of old for the day when God would intervene in history and establish his kingdom and bring the promised blessings to the world. 

This empathy puts us in the frame of mind to long for the return of the King whom we believe has indeed come, and who will yet come again. This longing helps us examine ourselves to see how and if we have submitted ourselves fully to our great King Jesus, this Jesus has not just been born, but who has died bearing our sin, and who has been raised to life as Lord over all. And as we connect ourselves inwardly to Israel’s longing we are trained in what is to be our own continued present longing.

 The King whot has come is coming back, and we long again for His appearing. Come, Lord Jesus! 

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  • Edwin Sineath
    7:33 am on June 16th, 2009 1

    I love your first paragraph! That is the answer to the “Christ-Mass” question that I have been longing to hear from someone who has a pulpit. The only tweak I’d have is that it’s not possible to “keep” Christ in Christ-Mass because he’s never been in it. In my experience, Christmas is the time of year when it’s difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish Christians from Pagans. Pagans rightfully adore Christmas. It’s their holiday, always has been, always will be. I find myself on the side of John Calvin when it comes to Christmas. He said that anyone who celebrates Christmas is “a rabid beast.” But I also remember to be circumspect about discussing Christmas, remembering also what happened to Calvin. He was asked to leave (kicked out?) Geneva partly because of his view of Christmas.


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